A brief history of coal mining in Kintyre
Coal has been mined in Kintyre since the latter part of the 15th century.
After a visit by James IV to his castles in Tarbert, Kilkerran and Dunaverty in 1494 he sent “ain coll man to pas to Kintyre to vesy gif cclys maybe be wonnyn thare”, as entered in the treasurers report of March 1498.
The original mine appears to be to the south of Drumlemble on the ridge by Torchoillean and it is thought the coal won at this time was only for the Royal Castles and was transferred by horse and cart.
In 1678 the first recorded mining for industrial use is recorded. This coal was used mainly for the production of salt at Machrihanish.
In 1773 James Watt was asked to produce a plan for a route of a canal from Drumlemble to Campbeltown. Work started in 1773 and the canal opened in 1791, and lasted to 1855. Evidence of its existence can still be seen between Hillside and Gorton Farms and there are the remains of the aqueduct which crossed the Chiskan Water near the present road bridge on the Machrihanish Road.
The coal field is a basin stretching from the sea at Machrihanish eastwards to within a mile and a half of Campbeltown, being cut off to the north by the big fault which follows the road to Tayinloan. It is thought the field extends to nine square miles. There are six or more seams some over ten foot (about 3 metres) thick.
There were a number of pits/mines, some worked in the Kilkivan/Drumlembel area but it was not until 1874 that the deeper mines were developed.
In 1876 the railway was laid down to connect Kilkvan pits with the depot on the west side of Campbeltown. In 1881 these pits were exhausted and the railway extended to Drumlemble half a mile to the west. This pit may have been known as the Wimbledon.
Electricity was introduced to the pit 1905/6 but in 1933 the Campbeltown and Machrihanish Light Railway was wound up.
The Glasgow Iron and Steel Company was granted a licence to bore for coal from 2 September 1943 until 11 November 1944. Following the results of the boring the company started preparatory work to drive two shafts in February 1944.
On 29th May 1946 Lady Lithgow, wife of Sir James declared the new colliery open. Speaking at the lunch following Mr Frank Hodges spoke of impending nationalisation. The mine was nationalised in 1947 and the mine became the Argyll Colliery part of the National Coal Board.
It was reported that a bore at No:2 West Parkfergus went down 162 fathoms (almost 300 metres) and stopped at 220 fathoms (400 metres). By August 1950 production had increased to 280 tons per day.
Tragedy struck on 15th February 1951 when a block of coal fell from the face, killing Donald Woodcock and injuring Robert Hamilton.
On 18th September 1958 a fire caused by spontaneous combustion started in the slope door and despite strenuous efforts the douse the flames it continued until 4 October when it was decided that the only remedy was to flood the mine, which was completed by 25th November.
Due to adverse mining conditions and loss of markets the manpower had been reduced to 200 men by 1960. In 1961 a further 60 men were made redundant. In 1962 a further series of faults caused problems with running sand and increased water. On some occasions water at the working face necessitated pumping 150 gallons per minute. By 1966 the particular problems of the pit allied to the general problems of coal mining in the country made closure inevitable and the colliery ceased production on 26th March 1967.